Birmingham solicitors Williamson and Soden have welcomed Government plans for a new deposit guarantee scheme for tenants.
Due to be introduced from October, the firm says it will help stop unscrupulous landlords taking unfair advantage.
"Typically, tenants renting private housing are required to pay a deposit before they are allowed to move in. This is generally considered a prudent precaution on the part of the landlord, as the funds can be used to cover unpaid rent and the cost of breakage or clearing up when the tenant leaves," said associate and property specialist Louisa Jakeman.
"Unfortunately, a significant minority of tenants complain that all or part of their deposit is unfairly withheld and it is the perception that some landlords are being unscrupulous that has prompted the Government to act."
Although no decision has yet been taken on what kind of deposit guarantee scheme will be set up or who will operate it, deposits will remain necessary security for landlords.
The Association of Residential Letting Agents has its own tenants deposit scheme, under which disputes are adjudicated if landlord and tenant cannot agree, and more than 100 have settled this way since November 2004.
However, not all landlords are members of the ARLA and are not, therefore, bound to abide by the scheme.
Mrs Jakeman says she welcomes the announcement about the new deposit guarantee scheme, but is convinced landlords and tenants can maximise the potential for disputes to be resolved in their favour simply by following some common sense but often neglected procedures.
She says landlords should prepare a proper inventory of contents along with a description of the condition of the property, including the garden if the tenant is expected to keep it tidy, which they then agree with the tenant and both sign. Proving that a property and its furniture were in good condition at the start of the tenancy could be difficult without these documents.
Tenants should treat the inventory and check-in process seriously and if they do not agree with a particular statement they should correct it, because it will be impossible to prove a carpet was stained at the beginning of a tenancy if this is not stated in the condition and inventory reports.
Mrs Jakeman advises tenants to take photographs at the start of the agreement to back up any claims about damage and suggests that landlords log tenant complaints in writing and keep a record of what has been done to repair broken or nonfunctioning items.
"If the landlord does not ask the tenant to sign and agree an inventory and statement of condition, the tenant's best course of action is to make his own records by taking photo-graphs and reporting any breakages or missing items immediately after moving in. The tenant should also keep written notes of any complaints made and of what is done to repair or replace items.
"In all cases where a deposit is taken landlords and tenants can help themselves by making an accurate record concerning the state of the property at the beginning of the tenancy and keeping this updated."